Specialized, in conjunction with McLaren has introduced a new ultra-aero time trial helmet. So new, so special is this helmet that only two of them exist—so far. As you read this, those helmets are in the possession of Tony Martin and Levi Leipheimer. Their particular combinations of badass time trialist, über-fast bike, none-faster-than helmet and all the ensuing confidence one derives from carrying the biggest gun in the shootout could make the coming Tour de France prologue a little extra satisfying for the folks in Morgan Hill.
Last week I attended the introduction of this new helmet at the McLaren Technology Center in Surrey, outside London. Both Specialized and McLaren are reluctant to share too many details of their working relationship. They could teach a graduate workshop on discretion. And I freaking hate that. I’ve often described myself as the eternal Discovery Channel watcher. I love to learn and I’m full of questions, even at this point in my life. My visit to McLaren was both one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever visited and one of my least satisfying experiences in writing about the bike industry. At a certain point I just stopped asking questions because they couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t answer.
So what are we left with? Well, let’s have a look at this helmet. They’ve been working on it for … a while. We really don’t know how long. What we know is that according to their wind tunnel data they’ve devised the absolute fastest helmet on the planet. They spent twice the amount of time in the wind tunnel as they did when designing the Venge, which suggests they would have spent a similar increase in time using Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) software to evaluate design changes even before getting to the wind tunnel. These days, most companies doing advanced aerodynamic work do all the heavy lifting with CFD and use the wind tunnel for proof-of-concept.
So what is CFD?
Do you remember the scene in Yellow Submarine where you see the music flowing out of the musical instruments as if it was a fog of beauty settling over the landscape? As a kid, I loved that visual—truth be told, that hasn’t changed; I still love the image of music settling over people as if beauty itself was washing over them. Visualizing the invisible isn’t strictly the domain of hippies on halucinogens, though they rightfully believe they hold a special ownership of that space.
CFD or Computational Fluid Dynamics does much the same thing (not as LSD, but making the invisible visible). Workstations running CFD software take an imaginary wind and blow it over a theoretical shape and then show you in a kind of lines-and-arrows diagram just how the air moves over that surface. Better yet, it can generate short movies to show you just what happens in areas of turbulence.
It’s amazingly cool to see; bong within easy reach, my college roommate could have watched this for whole Saturdays.
I have the sense that Specialized and McLaren looked at the TT helmet market and thought that they might be able to knock that problem off just to show how effective their partnership is. After all, a new TT bike can be years in the making. They just introduced the Venge last year. The wheel market is glutted with new ideas (some of which are working very well). I’m betting that the TT helmet is an interim project while they work on something bigger—a bike—on a longer development timeline.
So what really makes this helmet different? If you’re going to reduce this helmet to its two most important achievements, the first would be its drag numbers for when the rider looks down. Many TT helmets have great head-on drag. The problem is that they turn into sails if you pull a little red kite prayer. While this helmet doesn’t manage to maintain the same drag numbers head-on as head-down, its head-down numbers are so good that it is still faster than some companies’ helmets head-on. The chart below is a small sampling of the many helmets the big red S tested; I saw a chart that was hard to read because it listed so many helmets. This one is a good deal easier to follow.
This chart is also notable for an unintended reason: I had no idea the Spiuk Kronos was so damn fast. Go figure.
The second significant development introduced with this helmet are its gill vents. At the rear of the helmet there are slits along the top and sides that help channel air by and through the helmet to speed its flow. Not only do they make the helmet faster, they move more air over the rider’s head, we’re told, helping to keep him cooler as he rides.
There have been a great many TT helmets that were little more than fairings with a pad or two. They were as protective as a perforated condom, though entirely more popular. The S-Works helmet offers real protection and even uses dual-density foam to keep head trauma to an absolute minimum should you go down.
It’s hard to know just what McLaren provides Specialized in their partnership. Both companies are—quite understandably—pretty tight-lipped about the work they do together, that is, beyond revealing a new product. During the presentation I attended they talked about some of their work being strictly about technology. It was veiled and cryptic enough to be worthy of a Jedi master. Just what they meant I really don’t understand.
But let’s back up a second. McLaren’s Advanced Technology Division exists to bring McLaren’s considerable technological prowess to less fortunate companies. What I learned during our visit is that they spend a lot of time evaluating companies before they make an approach. And yes, so far as I understand, they reach out to you after deciding you’re cool enough. You’ve got to have the horsepower to be able to spend copiously on development. You’ve also got to have a reputation for predation, identity-wise and an ability to convey brainy gnar in your marketing.
Our tour of McLaren was exceedingly entertaining, what with the wheel-change competition on one of the Vodafone Formula One cars (and wherein our protagonist nearly peeled the skin from his thumb in an ill-timed activation of the air wrench), but probably encompassed less than 10 percent of the building. We saw cars driven by Ayrton Senna, Lewis Hamilton and Emerson Fittipaldi and had the ability to take pictures of nary an item we saw outside of the area where the intro was conducted.
Next spring this helmet will begin appearing at select Specialized retailers at a retail price that I suspect will fit somewhere between emergency room visit and college tuition. It’s fair to surmise that those retailers will all be Specialized Concept Stores.
I have been too hard on Andy Schleck. And though I’m sure he’s not losing much sleep over it, I’d like to take this opportunity to give him his due, because as many have pointed out to me, he IS a supremely talented rider.
He took the Young Rider classification at the 2007 Giro, and the same honor at the 2008 and 2009 Tours, before (on paper anyway) winning the 2010 Grand Boucle and finishing second last year. Between the ages of 22 and 25 he established himself as the best young GC rider in the world, without question. Turning those white jerseys yellow has been a bigger challenge, but that shouldn’t diminish what he achieved in the first phase of his career.
Looking ahead to the 2012 Tour, which rolls out of Liege tomorrow with a 6.4km prologue, it will be interesting to see who will pull on the white jersey and become the next Andy Schleck.
To me, the most intriguing possibility is Peter Sagan. The Slovakian sensation is having an incredible season, winning at will in week-long stage races like the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse. He can win in a traditional sprint. He can win in an uphill sprint. His main goal will be the green points jersey, but, because he can time trial and doesn’t slide backwards on the climbs quite like the rest of the sprinting cohort, there is the very real possibility that he can challenge for both jerseys. The odds are long, but thrilling to consider.
More traditionally, the white jersey goes to an accomplished climber though, so riders like Rein Taaramäe, Tejay van Garderen and Pierre Rolland must be favorites.
Taaramäe rides for Cofidis, a team with no realistic GC pretensions, so the young Estonian will be hunting steep stage wins. He has a string of good results behind him, and like Sagan his time-trialing is superior to most of the other white jersey hopefuls.
Van Garderen is another adept climber with good GC results. His challenge will be the weight of duty to returning champion Cadel Evans. In some cases, being first lieutenant in the mountains serves a young rider well. In others, it can completely derail a challenge.
A perfect example of a successful climbing domestique is Pierre Rolland who rode with Thomas Voekler during his fairytale stretch in the yellow jersey last year. Rolland rode away with the white jersey as a reward for his loyalty.
There are other possibilities, such as Vacansoleil-DCM’s Wout Poels or Rabobank’s Steven Kruijswijk. This week’s Group Ride, as if it wasn’t entirely obvious already, wonders: Who’s next? What are Sagan’s possibilities? Of the rest, who is most likely, and how will team chemistry and duty, play out against the back drop of the white jersey.
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Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
Have you heard about the Rêve Tour? Six women are riding the entire route of the 2012 Tour de France, one day in advance of the actual race, to raise money for Bikes Belong. The ride is sponsored and supported, but my understanding is that they’ll be cleaning and maintaining their own bikes. Given that there are six of them, and not 198, they’ll have to really stick together and take care of each other to make it. I think it is fair to say that for the women involved it will be easily as massive an undertaking as it will be for the men who will race it, for money, in their wake.
The Rêve Tour will not be televised. You can expect Heidi Swift, who writes for a certain magazine Padraig also writes for, to pen some compelling prose about it, but otherwise we will have very little window into what they’re doing day-to-day, and that’s too bad. I think it takes what a small cadre of men did during Stoepid Week and goes one louder.
The Rêve Tour ladies are already accomplishing part of what they set out do, because they’ve got me thinking about the disparities in our sport. Some years ago, when I was editing a soccer magazine, I ran up against a common feeling among our readership, which was that women’s soccer was inferior to men’s. It was slower, they complained. It was different.
My actual experience was that, while slower than the men’s game and less dependent on power, the women’s game was really good to watch. The women, at least at the time, were more tactical in their play, more cooperative. There were fewer cynical fouls and far less play-acting. It was different, yes, but still very good, and the pros, though paid far less than the men, were more open, giving of their time, and encouraging to young players.
Female cyclists at the very top of our sport will be slower than their male counterparts, but I can’t see that that has any impact on my enjoyment of a race. Since the advent of modern doping controls, including EPO testing and the biological passport, the men’s races have slowed as well. We are not enjoying those races less, are we?
A group of top racers going hammer-and-tongs at a grueling mountain stage is thrilling, no matter the, um, base equipment under them. The tactics are the same. The personalities will run the same gamut. It will be the same story, but different. Better in some ways.
I don’t want to go all soap-boxy about this, because I hope that I am preaching to a sympathetic choir. There is already elite women’s racing. Ina Yoko-Teutenberg, Kristen Armstrong, Evelyn Stevens, Emma Pooley, Marianne Vos, Claudia Hausler, Georgia Bronzini, Chloe Hosking, these are names you’ve probably heard. They are stars, even if the UCI and ASO don’t treat them as such.
To me, the Rêve Tour won’t prove any points about what women can and can’t do. We already know they can race the same races as the men, and most of us believe those races would be just as compelling as the ones we get to see on television. What the Rêve Tour does, I think, is ask the question, “Why are things the way they are now, with unequal prize money and inadequate support from the sport’s governing body?”
And it’s a fair question.
In pro tennis, at the top level, the prize money is equal. The women get as much, and sometimes more, media ink than the men. It’s an example of two subtly different forms of the same game, offering equal entertainment value, and equal opportunity. How is cycling different?
When Chloe Hosking called Pat McQuaid a dick for his comment that professional female cyclists did not deserve a minimum wage, she was made to back down and apologize. But for what? How can the head of the UCI pretend to be interested in the growth of the sport when he won’t give even the most cursory backing to equal opportunities for women?
I have no answers. I know it’s easy to write these words, to put on an air of moral indignation. It is much harder to set out with six teammates to conquer the Tour de France and make your point with your legs, as a cyclist should.
Image: Robertson, VeloDramatic
My history with Zipp products goes back 14 years. In that time I’ve ridden wheelsets that scared me, cranks I thought should have been more popular than the Beatles and bars that changed my expectations for all carbon handlebars. The overriding impression I’ve had is that of a company less satisfied with its own products than intimidated by the competition.
Were I to personify Zipp’s professional ambitions, I’d say they are a lot like Eddy Merckx was in 1972, which is to say, after picking up victory after victory as if he was strolling through the Europe’s most decadent buffet with a trash can-lid-sized plate, he went on to trounce the hour record. In talking with Zipp engineers, I’ve been struck by how they really don’t seem to give a damn what anyone else is doing. They seem to begin each day with a question—how do we improve our products? And to give full credit where due, when someone else does a nice piece of work, they are happy to hand out the compliments. It’s a classy touch.
Now, you can’t begin each day with a blank drawing board; a new wheel can take a year to develop. And yet, despite their ambitions, it’s not like Zipp hasn’t had the odd black eye, such as the wheel failures the Garmin-Chipotle team suffered at Paris-Roubaix in 2008. Thought to be former winner Magnus Backstedt’s last shot at a big performance, he broke both wheels on the cobbles and ended his day in the team car. But compare that with Tom Boonen’s performance at this year’s Hell of the North, where the Belgian regained his old form and rode away from the decimated field and crossed the line on a set of Zipp Firecrest 303s.
The 303 is Zipp’s third set of wheels to use its revolutionary Firecrest shape, coming on the heels of the 404s and 808s. And while the unusual shape was roundly mocked by some of their competitors, a quick check of HED and Enve web sites shows wheels with rims with a highly rounded spoke bed, not unlike the Firecrest shape.
For those of you who haven’t been following these developments—and admittedly the nerd factor goes critical almost instantly—here’s a little primer: Wind, as you know, is the single biggest factor in determining how fast you ride a bicycle. And crosswinds affect both speed and confidence; if you’re getting buffeted by a crosswind, you’ll tend to back off and focus on holding your line. Naturally, deep-section rims are more prone to steering input by the wind. Even though the wind will push on the whole of the wheel, a wheel’s design will determine just how much force the wind can exert on it. This is expressed as an imaginary spot called the wheel’s center of pressure. A traditional box rim with 28 spokes has a center of pressure that is a bit forward of the bike’s steering axis. As you increase rim depth (think typical deep-V carbon wheels) that center of pressure gets moved farther from the steering axis, giving the wind more leverage on that wheel, increasing its ability to push you around like a mop.
Deep-V rims were design with the idea that the rim was the trailing edge behind the tire. Firecrest treats the spoke bed as a second leading edge, if you consider the portion of wheel behind the steering axis. In rounding the rim profile at the spoke bed, Zipp ended up with a significantly more aerodynamic rim. It also resulted in a rather unexpected effect—it shifted the center of pressure behind the dropout to an area very near the steering axis.
I should mention here that center of pressure isn’t a single static location, which is why I used the term “area” rather than “point.” It, like center of gravity, moves around, but instead of body position determining it, center of pressure depends on yaw angle—where the wind is coming from.
Okay, so having said all that, what it boils down to is this: Crosswinds have very little effect on the 303 wheelset. Further, when the wind hits a front 303 the effect is to steer you ever so slightly back into the wind, but practically speaking my experience is that it simply cancels out the force of the crosswind against your body and the bike.
So how much faster is Firecrest? Zipp says 8 percent faster than their previous design; that number isn’t hugely encouraging given that wheels are only about 10 to 15 percent of the overall drag of a bicycle. At best, you’re going to realize a slightly more than 1 percent gain in speed. But the gain isn’t so modest as that. Because Firecrest is that much more stable than a traditional deep-section wheel, you can ride with greater confidence and if there is a wind, you needn’t back off your effort to concentrate on controlling the bike.
Firecrest has realized yet another benefit. The wide rim—Firecrest is 25.1mm wide at the top of the brake track and 27.5mm wide at the bottom of the brake track—increases rim strength, and while that’s cool and everything, as you well know, that also gives the tire a wider footprint for better traction in corners.
I’ve ridden a lot of carbon clinchers. Some I liked, some I detested (but that’s for another post). The 303s strike an unusual balance. They are unquestionably aerodynamic. While I haven’t taken these to the wind tunnel, what I can tell you is that at crunch time on fast group rides, the 303s have aided my efforts. I notice a little something extra when accelerating or when putting my nose in the wind. The set weighs in at 1478g (676g for the front and 802 for the rear) which isn’t super light, but when combined with their aerodynamic advantage they are my favorite wheel for big jumps. And on longer climbs, when I will tend to slow down if there’s any sort of uptick in grade, a lighter set of wheels like this make it noticeably easier to get back up to my previous speed.
Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to this aerodynamic beauty. If you’re riding a Specialized Tarmac SL4 or Venge, you shouldn’t plan to mount these wheels on it. There’s very little clearance between the inside of the chainstays and the maximum width of the rim. That hasn’t stopped some riders I know from trying it anyway and claiming it isn’t a problem, but still. That whole voided-warranty thing can be a bitch.
I’ve done most of my miles on these wheels on a Super Record-equipped bike. Prior to switching them to that bike I’ll say that I had the impression that they were unusually stiff wheels, laterally. For reasons I can’t explain, the rear derailleur will rub spokes on every wheel I’ve tried when I put the chain in the big cog and stand up. I was surprised to hear the derailleur ting on the spokes of the rear 303. So it may be laterally stiffer than some, but it’s not stiffer than everything.
So that’s lateral stiffness. Vertical stiffness is another story. At 110 psi—the pressure I run most tires on most wheels—the combination of the 303s with Zipp’s Tangente clinchers is the most comfortable wheel/tire combination I’ve ridden. The difference isn’t huge; it’s not like running 80 psi with tubeless, but it’s enough to take the sting out of the rear end of a Felt F1. I probably wouldn’t have been able to note the difference had I not been riding these and other wheels on such a stiff bike.
The one consistent issue I’ve had with Zipp wheels has been build quality. On more than one occasion I’ve ridden a stellar rim and great hub laced together with a marginal build (this isn’t an issue peculiar to Zipp, though). Loosening spokes has been a recurring theme. Or at least, it was. The 303s I’ve been riding—and I’ve got more than 800 miles on them—have yet to come out of true. It’s worth noting that due to their angled brake track, if a Zipp wheel isn’t perfectly true both horizontally and vertically there can be a pronounced effect on braking. A rider will experience a high or low spot as either more or less grab at the brakes. It’s not a dynamite experience, but one I’m pleased to say didn’t take place with these wheels.
Another note on braking: Carbon clinchers and braking performance haven’t been good bedfellows. Some are as grabby as a drunk in a topless bar. Others have all the stopping power of an alcoholic at a frat party. The set of 303s I’ve been riding offer the absolute best braking I’ve experienced in carbon clinchers. Okay, so you’re wondering just what I mean by best; it’s a worthy question. What I mean is that the braking response is more similar to a set of aluminum clinchers than anything else I’ve ridden. I don’t want more stopping power, nor do I want less stopping power. I want to switch between wheels and notice only the change in sound, if even that.
And we’re not done on braking: I rode these wheels in Malibu, taking them down descents that some riders are now being advised to avoid. I’ve killed some carbon clinchers in Malibu, which is interesting given that I brake as little as survival instinct will permit. Braking is, after all, antithetical to fun. I don’t know a lot about the resins that Zipp uses, but I have at my disposal two details worth considering: 1) they have on staff an engineer with a Ph.D. in resin chemistry and 2) I am to understand that the resin used in the brake track cures at a temperature higher than any of their competitors; the brake track can handle temperatures north of 700 degrees, more than 350 degrees higher than the resins used by some of their competitors. I’ve yet to kill a Zipp wheel in Malibu; I know no one else who has done it. It’s an unusual record.
When last I dated I ran across any number of women who described themselves as “the whole package.” They were bright. Well-adjusted. Educated (graduate degree). Professional. In child-bearing years and willing. Not just healthy, but hot. They knew what they were and they weren’t going to date some guy writing a screenplay at Starbucks while on unemployment. These Zipps are kinda like that. Which is why they can ask $2700 for them.
Last summer I was sent a set of Hincapie’s Emergence kit for review. I had been pretty fascinated by the stuff when I’d gotten a look at it at Interbike, but my fascination was somewhat … academic. Why’s that you ask? Well, even though this kit is ninja black, the fabric has been treated with Schoeller’s coldblack® technology which reflects light and provides SPF protection. I know, black kit for a hot day sounds like a joke, but I was at least persuaded to give it a try. But when?
The fact is, even though I live in Southern California, my proximity to the beach (two miles and falling if the reports of rising sea level are to be believed) means that I never see the triple-digit heat so much of California withers beneath.
Combine that with this other little tidbit and you’ll see that it was difficult to even find a chance to put the stuff to use. Oh, and that other little tidbit is that I ride in the early morning six days a week. By the time I get home, temperatures are usually still south of 70 degrees. I spend nearly 10 months a year in arm warmers.
Ah, but I’ve had two events in the last 12 months that allowed me to put this kit through its paces. The first was a trip last August to Bishop, Calif., where I took in a bunch of hors categorie climbs. I’d start off just as soon as it was warm enough to ride without arm warmers and return to temps in the low hundreds.
Then last month I took a trip to Memphis, Tenn., and got reacquainted with “90s and 90s.” That is, temperatures and humidity upwards of 90 (degrees and percent). It was a bit like bumping into the psycho ex; I haven’t missed it. But man, coldblack® actually works. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t some universe-altering Gabriel Garcia Marquez surreal air conditioning textile. I’m not crazy. What I noticed was that I could reach down and touch the fabric in the jersey and bibs and they weren’t hot to the touch like so many all-black garments would be. I had to ride with some other all-black bibs just to make sure I wasn’t imagining the phenomenon.
So coldblack®, in my experience, does work. It won’t turn July into October, but it can make unbearable sort of okay. Hincapie reports that it offers an SPF factor of 50+.
That said, I’m trying to understand why it was coldblack® and not coldred or coldblue. I have serious reservations about an all black kit. Part of this is the nerd in me. No, it’s not that I have some twisted sense of what looks good (though I do take fashion cues from “The Big-Bang Theory.”) It’s that a portion of my undergraduate work was in sensation and perception. Allow me to distill a year’s worth of 400-level courses into a single, useful statement: Black isn’t a color; it’s a hole in the visual field.
As it turns out, to the human brain, black is as close as we get to invisible, short of Wonder Woman comics. It’s the opposite of red. Your eye is hardwired to look around black rather than at it. Given the incredible number of SUV-driving people whose next phone call is several times more important than your continued good health, I just have a preference for recommending stuff that makes you more visible rather than less so. Though I do make an exception for anything in neon yellow. There’s no need to overdo it. Which brings me to another point: don’t ask about color options. Henry Ford would approve of this approach as it’s available in black or black.
To be fair, both the jersey and bibs have reflective tags, logos and piping, but reflective bits don’t do much on rides when headlights aren’t on, and even for cars with daytime lights, reflective pips aren’t often noticeable at noon.
In Hincapie, as in most American clothing brands, I wear medium bibs and a small jersey. Of late, Hincapie bib inseams and jerseys have been cut shorter than they used to. This is a good thing. It’s one thing to have George Hincapie personally test all the clothing. It’s quite another to use him as the fit model. Having said this, the kit is supposed to have a form fit—Hincapie calls the cut body-mapping. The jersey should be snug, though not quite skinsuit tight. In my case it would have been nice to go down yet another size to achieve the desired fit; I say would have because they don’t make the jersey in XS—that was a bit of a disappointment. The kit is available in five sizes: S through XXL. So if you want the jersey to fit you correctly, at least like the guy in the pic, go down one size if possible. I don’t see anyone under 145 lbs. wearing this jersey. The bibs, on the other hand, fit correctly.
The kit is cut from AT1 Dynamic stretch fabric and features flatlock seems throughout. The pieces are quite comfortable. In walking around before the ride, filling bottles and that sort of thing, the Hincapie Emergence Chamois feels rather stiff except in the low-density areas, where it essentially just folds. It’s not a common experience and I can’t say that I really liked it, but we don’t purchase chamois based on how well you walk in them. Which is a good thing, because out on the bike it’s a good deal more comfortable.
The leg bands and sleeves are finished with a lightweight, laser-cut tape that has a slightly tacky backing, though it’s nothing like the silicone grippers that seem to irritate some riders. If you’re looking for something less grabby, I can definitely recommend these.
Final details: three rear pockets plus a fourth, zippered security pocket. The front, like almost all jerseys these days, includes a full zipper for maximum ventilation. There’s a gripper to hold the jersey hem in place.
At retail the jersey goes for $129.99, while the bibs go for $219.99. They have a dealer locator and if none are nearby, you can always make a purchase directly from their site.
Final thought: We knew black was beautiful, so of course it’s cool.
We rode hard the other night, the group of us, in 90° heat, and though we went the usual route to have the usual fun, I suffered. Stomach cramps when we set out should have told me I was on a hiding to nothing, but an inner voice told me just to roll it out, to finish, even if off the back. So that’s what I did.
There is a way of riding that doesn’t feel much like riding. The pedals turn. Your legs pump up and down, and yet you put nothing into the effort except where the road is mean enough to rise. If gravity is a cruel mistress, sometimes inertia is her prettier, more forgiving sister. We strolled together, she and I, until I was at the foot of the mile-long climb that leads to my house, and then she was gone.
The darker sister dogged me to the top, whispering insults in my ear.
When I rolled into the drive way, covered in road filth and dead bugs, I felt close to dead. I stripped off kit and shoes on the cold basement floor and contemplated the long climb to the 2nd floor bathroom. Eventually, I sat in the shower and watched the dirt stream off my legs and down the drain.
I drank some water, and then some more water. I ate. Something sweet. Something salty. A banana.
Then I felt really badly. Light-headed. Exhausted. I went up and lay on the bed in the air conditioner’s blast. And, just as I was drifting off to dizzy sleep, someone down in the engine room called for the full reverse. Eyes shot open. Feet found the floor. I stumbled to the bathroom and emptied myself face first into the commode.
Here I kept control of myself. I felt almost wistful as the spasms wracked my guts, a cyclist’s sense of tragedy. Can you be proud of the way you throw up?
The wife came upstairs to express wifely concern, and I gave her my best sardonic grin. I tried to say, “This is funny, eh?” with my eyes, but they were maybe too watery to make my point. I brushed my teeth.
I had not vomited in more than a decade. What had brought me here? Heat? A stomach bug? Those were my last thoughts as I drifted off to sleep. Spent. Not sure the answers mattered.
There is something in our reptile brains that files away the circumstances of a full system reverse like this one. It’s the mechanism which leads so many to cross tequila off their list of thirst-quenching beverages, or to negatively correlate corn dogs with roller coasters.
But I think I have failed to view this experience through the common prism. I didn’t revel in it, but neither did I regret it. Without romanticizing what happened, I think it was more like some of the foreign films I watched when I was in college. I didn’t enjoy them, because, if I’m honest, I mostly failed to understand them, but there was a part of me that was very glad I’d sat through every minute, that was glad I’d experience them, if only to be able to fit each one into a larger context.
And I think rides are like that. Some are good, and some are bad, and some I just don’t properly understand, but it’s important, possibly, to sit through them, to expand the context of your riding and to understand what is suffering and what is actually just inertia.
I just had breakfast with Scott Moninger at a Boulder diner. The 45-year-old Colorado resident is probably the greatest American bike racer who never rode the Tour de France—but he is going to his first Tour this week. Not as a racer, but as a television commentator to work with Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll in the NBC Sports “studio” at every stage finish for the next three weeks And judging by our conversation over eggs and French toast on Monday, Moninger will make a great addition to the team.
In a pro career that lasted almost two decades, Moninger raced for teams such as Coors Light, Mercury, HealthNet and BMC Racing. He won 275 races. Not bad for a climber! His palmarès lists some 30 overall wins in stage races, including Australia’s Herald-Sun Tour, the Redlands Classic and Tour of Utah, along with multiple victories in the Mount Evans Hill Climb and Nevada City Classic. In other words, Moninger knows quite a bit about bike racing!
Since ending his pro racing career in 2007, Moninger has remained in the sport, first as a team director with Toyota-United, and presently as a coach with Peaks Coaching, and as a national brand ambassador for Speedplay pedals. But it’s his knowledge as a bike racer, along with his calm, confident voice and solid demeanor, that should make him a perfect foil for Roll’s wacky style. “And they wanted an American,” Moninger emphasized, referring to NBC Sports.
Moninger’s presence will add an extra degree of knowledge to Tour coverage on network television. He may not have ridden the Tour, but he raced with or against many of the men who competed in Liège-Bastogne-Liège earlier this spring, including Tom Danielson, Cadel Evans, JJ Haedo, Greg Henderson, Ryder Hesjedal, George Hincapie, Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer and Dave Zabriskie. That personal connection will help give viewers an inside perspective on the peloton, while Moninger’s up-to-the-minute knowledge of training and tactics will add considerable depth to the NBC team’s daily analysis of the Tour.
Moninger doesn’t have the experience of his three veteran co-commentators (Liggett will be calling the race for the 40th time this year!), “but they wanted someone with a fresh voice,” Moninger told me. He may not be a seasoned TV “talent” but I’m sure he’ll be that fresh voice NBC Sports producer David Michaels is seeking.
I don’t want to give away any secrets, but Moninger, who said he has diligently watched the Tour on TV for the past 20 years, shared many fine insights on the Tour over breakfast. We talked about all the contenders, their teams, the likely strategies, the unusual layout of this year’s Tour, and the Olympic road race that follows a week after the Tour.
Moninger can also talk knowledgably about any doping topics that surface because, as most people remember, he was a victim of the anti-doping rules a decade ago. He tested positive for the prohibited steroid 19-norandrosterone at Colorado’s Saturn Cycling Classic in August 2002, and he was given a two-year suspension, which, on appeal to a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency tribunal, was reduced to one year.
Moninger explained at his hearing that a month before the Colorado race, when he couldn’t buy the amino-acid supplement he’d been using for years, he switched to another brand—and though no prohibited substances were listed in the ingredients, an analysis later showed there were some unknown anabolic elements in the supplement.
The appeals panel didn’t accept that explanation, but they did cut Moninger’s sentence because of a provision in the anti-doping rules that allows a panel to modify a suspension because of the “character, age and experience of the transgressor.” They also recognized that this was his first positive result in more than 100 drug tests he’d undertaken in his then 12 seasons as a professional cyclist. In its verdict, the USADA panel wrote that “the evidence clearly indicates that he is one of the most respected and trusted members of the American cycling community.”
That experience wasn’t something he wanted, but it certainly gives Moninger an insider’s knowledge of the anti-doping process, and that knowledge could be of great value over the course of a Tour. Although no one wants another doping scandal to scar the sport, Moninger will be able to expertly discuss subjects like Alberto Contador’s current suspension and USADA’s ongoing investigation of the alleged “doping conspiracy” in teams led by Lance Armstrong that is keeping Johan Bruyneel from directing his RadioShack-Nissan team at the Tour.
Moninger, and the rest of the NBC viewers, would much rather discuss the promise of a new Tour, where Evans and Brad Wiggins may be the favorites but, as we discussed at breakfast, there will be some great challenges from the likes of Hesjedal, Horner, Leipheimer and half-a-dozen others. So it should be a good first Tour for a popular American seeking to be the new voice of cycling.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
The final day of Press Camp was an unfortunately abbreviated affair for me as I had a plane to catch to get to yet another media event, this one a continent away. I began my final day with one of my most eagerly awaited appointments—the U.S. team behind Ridley. While the brand has interested me for some time, I really haven’t devoted any editorial to them because I simply haven’t had a relationship with anyone who worked for them. This was a chance to begin rectifying that.
While I got a great tour through the entirety of their line, I have to admit that there were two bikes of particular interest to me. Top of my list was the Noah. I’ve found this bike to be one of the more interesting takes on an aero road design in the peloton. This owes, in part, to the integrated F-brake which is incorporated into the fork and seatstays.
There’s little doubt that it improves the aerodynamics of the bike; Ridley claims that the Noah will save you 20 watts over a conventional road frame. That’s a pretty colossal improvement; even 10 watts for me would be appreciable. And welcome.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll reiterate that engineers at several different brands have all told me the same thing: All the real gains to be made in the future won’t be in weight. To the extent that we get faster due to strictly technological advances, they will all come in the realm of aerodynamics. I wasn’t so sure I believed them until I had a rider who wasn’t as strong as me drop me on a flat road while riding his TT bike. I simply couldn’t stay in his draft.
The Noah uses a seat mast, which is a feature I’m not sure I’ll ever come to love, not in any frame. While I respect that this contributes to the frame’s overall aerodynamic slipperosity (new word, you heard it here first), every frame I’ve ever ridden that used a seatmast design was less comfortable than similar frames spec’d with a 27.2mm seat post. Regardless, I hope to ride a Noah some time soon.
Also on display was a new version of the Helium. With a slightly sloping top tube, tubes with squarish profiles and string bean seat stays, this thing could be a cousin to the Cervelo R3. This sense is reinforced now by a redesign in which the seatmast has been replaced by a conventional 27.2mm seat post. Hooray!
The Helium is a simple, clean design unencumbered by superfluous contours that cause so many frames to look like an early ’60s Corvette and weigh nearly as much. As it was put to me, the new Helium finally gives Ridley a truly pro-worthy climbing bike, and one that will be a good deal easier to travel with. I was surprised to learn that one of the big drivers for doing a traditional seatpost on this bike wasn’t ride quality; rather, it was the ability to pack the bike more easily for travel. Go figure.
Also worth mentioning is the new women’s bike, the Liz. It won’t be any woman’s first road bike, but it will be a great bike to upgrade to after that first under-spec’d road bike.
Of all the brands at Press Camp, Knog is one that’s been on my radar, and I could easily have made a request to review some of their stuff, but I was never really certain how their offerings would go over with the RKP readership. Our reviews have skewed toward performance items for serious roadies, but thanks in no small part due to the FGR, we’ve learned that a great many of you ride early, ride late, run errands on your bikes and in short do things that don’t require being the leader of some Strava segment. Oh, and that you’d like to live to see your next ride. As a result, you’ll start seeing some mentions of Knog product here and there. They’ve got a zany, irreverent sensibility—think Greenpeace at a rave—that meshes well with the fact that their products are as green as possible and easier to use than a Coke machine. Let me add that when they decided to call their LED light series the Blinders, that wasn’t hyperbole. I looked directly into one and my retinas are still on strike.
My stop at CycleOps was unforgivably brief. The pending arrival of my airport shuttle had me blowing through their suite like a starving man at a buffet line. I was interested in it all, but didn’t have the time to sit down and really learn much. The most exciting news, so far as I was concerned, was the announcement of the new Joule GPS. So now you can have all the functionality of the Joule bike computer with its ability to allow you to examine your wattage on the fly combined with GPS tracking of your route which may not be that important to you while you’re on the bike, but will be very handy when it comes time to upload your ride to Map My Ride or Strava. You’ll still need to upload the route to two different pieces of software as neither MMR or Strava enable you to examine your performance the way that CycleOps’ Power Center or Training Peaks does, though.
CycleOps has also partnered with Enve to offer high-end wheelsets. For those looking for an aerodynamic set of wheels that will also allow for wattage reading, this partnership offers a terrific solution.
And while you’re not going to care a whit about this in June (why should you?), I saw the CycleOps Virtual Trainer, which combines indoor training with the challenge of real-world training routes. Tacx has had a product that works along these lines, but CycleOps adds a really significant wrinkle to this equation. You have the ability to upload video you’ve recorded (say, via a GoPro camera) along with a GPS route to give you a significantly simulated training experience. The trainer will increase the load to simulate climbs and ease it for descents. The one thing your training won’t fix is that if you got dropped on the ride you shot, you’re still going to get dropped next winter. Oops.
I’ve wanted to attend Press Camp since the event’s inception four years ago. It took a while for both the event and RKP to grow enough that we received an invitation. Honestly, it was even better than I had expected. The event is exceedingly well organized, but that didn’t surprise me. The driving forces behind the event are Lance Camisasca and Chris Zigmont. Camisasca is the former director for the Interbike trade show and Zigmont is the former general manager for Mavic and Pedro’s. Zigmont also ran Mavic’s neutral support program here in North America for many years. He has a talent for providing logistics for herded cats.
It’s worth mentioning how much fun it is to interact with my colleagues. I had the opportunity to meet David Bernstein of the FredCast, Byron from Bike Hugger, as well as spend time with friends like Ben Edwards at peloton and Nick Legan over at Velo.
It’s no secret that the Interbike trade show has been suffering the pains of an entity whose business model is in decline. Suppliers want the show to happen earlier so they can place preseason orders, while retailers want the show to happen later so that they don’t have to take their most important staff out of the store for a week during peak selling season. In metaphoric terms, she wants to get married and he’s not ready to give up his little black book. It’s a relationship destined for the rocks.
Press Camp gives the media access to a bunch of brands that are interested in media coverage; and while you might think that is everybody, not every brand out there cares if Road Bike Action, LAVA or RKP writes a word about them. From the brands’ perch, this is a chance to have the same conversation over and over, which can simplify a day. Surprisingly, the 45 minute sessions go quickly. It’s amazing how little you can cover in 45 minutes, even though it’s a great deal more than you can cover in 15 minutes at Interbike.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Interbike. While I hate Las Vegas the way a teenage girl hates acne, I’ve come to accept that it’s a place anyone can get a reasonable airfare to and even the unemployed can afford a hotel room. I know; I’ve done it. I love the way it brings together a big swath of the industry, though I prefer the way it used to bring together the whole of the industry. But that’s the thing about Press Camp and Dealer Camp: They aren’t so much a response to Interbike as they are a response to the big dealer events hosted by Trek, Specialized and Giant. The success of those dealer events is because of the intimate (sometimes pronounced “captive audience”) setting where dealers don’t just get specs and pricing, but education.
Trade shows were speed dating before speed dating was cool. The problem is that as the bike industry has become more sophisticated, the grocery-store model of strolling aisles has ceased to work for most people. Next time I go, though, I plan to schedule fewer afternoon appointments so that I can actually get out for a ride. It felt silly to leave Park City without having gone for a single ride.
I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about last week’s topic. On the one hand, I am tired of writing about a guy who should, by now, pretty much be gone from the headlines. (Yeah, I know, he was mounting a return to triathlon, but for me “triathlon” generally means “totally off of my radar screen.”) On the other hand, I remain interested in seeing some serious lingering questions asked – and answered – in a cohesive fashion.
That said, I welcomed the suggestion by “Jim D” in the comments section, as he invited me to cover a new subject:
“Hey Charles, New subject, Strava lawsuit.”
Okay, okay, I admit, I had no idea what the “Strava lawsuit” is, but as long as it didn’t involve that one guy, I was game. Now, I think I know what a lawsuit is, but what the hell is a Strava?
Well, thanks to the InterTubes, the answer was quick and easy. This Strava thing actually turns out to be pretty cool. Strava is a nifty little social network for endurance athletes, namely runners and cyclists. Sort of Facebook for jocks, but with something more interesting than photos of kittens or posters’ most recent meals.
By uploading data via an iPhone, Android device or GPS unit, one can virtually “compete” on an array of courses all over the world. It’s a variant of MapMyRide and a 21st Century version of the bragging rights we all fought for back in my day.
Back in the ‘80s, my buddies and I had a bunch of pre-set courses all around our little town of Laramie, Wyoming. We pretty much knew who held the record on “The Summit,” the original five- and 10-mile “Dead Dog” time trial courses, “The Big Hollow,” or the 20km climb up the Snowies, be it via Highway 130, or that beautiful – but often-closed – route up Barber Lake road. All of that provided motivation. If Danny or Bob or Rex knocked off “The Summit” in under 15, I sure as heck was going to do my best to nail it in 14:45 … or better.
Strava just adds some cool technology to the formula and even brings a bit of confirmation to the claims. In our day, we would require a witness or two to verify times. Now you can do it with your iPhone.
Good enough. So from whence cometh a lawsuit?
Strava is a terrific service. Indeed, if you score top bragging rights on a particular ride, it will let everyone know how much of a stud you are. If then someone else beats your time, your iPhone will essentially call you a wimp and push you to better that. Strava can do a lot to fan the flames of your competitive fires.
And therein lies the rub.
Competition or obsession?
According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court last Monday, some riders will go to extreme lengths to protect their “title” of being the fastest on a given course.
One of them, 40-year-old Kim Flint Jr., had the distinction of being the “King of the Mountain” on a route in Tilden Park in Orinda, California. Although it is my understanding that the “KOM” designation is awarded only for the climbs, one’s time for the entire route – from start to finish, with ascents and descents included – is recorded and compared. Part of the Tilden Park route involved a steep descent on South Park Drive.
It was there that Flint was racing down the hill on June 19, 2010, at what attorney Susan Kang said was at speeds of around 49 miles per hour. That was being done on an open road, with through traffic and a posted 30mph speed limit.
According to the suit, “in pursuit of regaining his title, Kim Flint Jr. came in contact with an automobile and was killed.”
Now, on the eve of the statute of limitations tolling, Flint’s parents have filed a wrongful death suit against Strava, citing the site’s failure to live up to its “duty of care” to participants, particularly Flint.
That duty of care, notes the suit, should have included notice that competitors should use “the degree of care that a reasonable person in the same situation would have used to protect their users from danger.”
In other words, the plaintiffs are arguing that Strava had a duty to at least advise its users to exercise caution, while it was also encouraging them to compete against one another.
For its part, Strava denies liability.
“Based on the facts involved in the accident and the law, there is no merit to this lawsuit,” company spokesman Mark Riedy said. “We again express our condolences to the Flint family, but we will defend the company vigorously through the legal process ahead.”
The reaction has largely been negative from the Twitterati in the cycling world. Some have suggested the family is only out to make a buck. Others have faulted the attorneys involved for “convincing” the family to sue. Most critics suggest that the accident was the result of risks that Flint assumed for himself and that the fault is his and his alone.
Does holding a ‘virtual’ race make you a ‘virtual’ promoter?
I think the whole thing raises some interesting questions, not least of which is whether Strava has, in essence, become a race promoter and, by doing so, assumed at least some of the duties that accompany that designation.
Like I said, I love the technology that Strava has woven together in way that allows riders to expand their community to something more than the usual cadre of friends they get to ride with. It’s pretty damn cool.
The routes are those that users design. Our old “Big Hollow Loop,” could easily be entered into the Strava database by riders in the area. Then, any time an interested party does that ride, they can compare their best time to those of others. Nifty.
As mentioned, whenever your time is beat, you get your chain yanked by Strava, essentially asking you if you are going to let the new time remain unchallenged. By doing so, Strava, in my opinion, is dancing awfully close to becoming a promoter.
Hear me out on that, before dismissing what might be a weak argument. Admittedly, Strava does not travel the world picking out “race” courses on which riders will assemble at a given time and race one another to the finish. Strava’s “races” amount to an open-ended competition, over courses that participants themselves design.
What has me concerned, though, is the site’s willingness to encourage such competition on courses none of its employees have necessarily seen and then to maintain records, award prizes and bestow titles upon those who ride those routes the fastest. There appears to be little or no consideration of the factors over which traditional promoters lose many a night’s sleep.
In the traditional sense, a promoter is responsible for providing a relatively safe route on which riders can compete. If any of you have put on a road race, you know of what I speak. The checklist is seemingly endless. There are questions of road closures, or at least “rolling enclosures” and police assistance and, the 800-pound gorilla of event promotion, liability insurance. No promoter in his right mind would hold a criterium in downtown Denver at rush hour, with traffic on the course. Strava participants can do just that. The question is whether Strava is at least somewhat responsible if someone chooses to do that.
If Strava is determined to be a “promoter” then it will be assigned many of those same duties. At minimum, it could mean that Strava would face the onerous task of reviewing courses for potential dangers, dangers that are inherently amplified when riders “compete” on open and unregulated roads.
Of course, we’re all familiar with the release form we sign before toeing the line at a bike race. Even with a release form, a promoter has a host of duties. As I’ve said before, you can’t put on a criterium over roads where all of the manhole covers have been removed. That’s not an “inherent risk.” A failure to meet those responsibilities – what lawyers call a “breach of duty” – opens up the floodgates when it comes to liability. As a “social network,” Strava contends it doesn’t have to do any of that.
Nonetheless, following the Flint family’s decision to file suit, Strava did modify its terms of service, in a way that looks awfully close to a traditional release form. The terms now require users to acknowledge the “inherent risks” involved in “these activities” and that they carry with them “significant risks of property damage, bodily injury or death.” It also notes that a participant must “assume all known and unknown risks” involved in such competition.
No, the amended terms of service are not anything that will be introduced at trial. Such remedial steps are inadmissible, largely because to allow their introduction as evidence of earlier negligence would discourage potential defendants from improving a product or service out of fear of a subsequent lawsuit.
Attorney Kang concedes that the “biggest hurdle” she faces in her suit against Strava is that whole “assumption of risk” question. Namely, that a reasonable person who engages in competitions on open roads knows and accepts the risks involved. Maybe.
What the court will eventually have to weigh is whether Strava’s role in encouraging competition puts at least some of that risk – and the ensuing liability – on the company, too.
What about innocent bystanders?
Those “inherent risks,” however, were not assumed by 71-year-old Sutchi Hui, who was merely walking across the street in San Francisco in March, when he was struck by 29-year-old Chris Bucchere. Bucchere was allegedly “competing” on a Strava course known as “the Castro Bomb,” when he hit Hui, who died from his injuries four days later. Bucchere has been charged with vehicular manslaughter.
If the allegations in this case are proven – either in civil or criminal court – Bucchere is clearly responsible for Hui’s death.
Is Strava? Kang suggests that the company played a role in encouraging Bucchere’s behavior and is at least partially responsible. As lawyers and law professors are prone to do, she underscores her point with an interesting hypothetical.
“Imagine how people would react if someone were to do that with cars,” she said.
Good point, counselor. Imagine a website that encouraged you to cover a certain road or stretch of highway faster than the last guy. It wouldn’t take too long – maybe minutes – before someone violated the speed limit in order to earn the “title” of being the fastest on that road. Then, in order to protect that title, one would have to start by violating the law.
We might still have the assumption-of-risk issue if a driver was killed, but I would have to believe that there might be a consensus when it came to holding the website at least partially responsible if one of those “competitors” struck and killed a pedestrian or another driver.
Kang said that Flint’s parents’ primary goal is to prevent what happened to their son from happening to someone else.
“They aren’t in this for money,” she said. “They want this to stop before someone else gets hurt or killed.”
No one has filed suit in the Hui case. If they do, it’s likely they will name Strava as one of the defendants in the case. They will most certainly argue that under its current configuration, the Strava competition model actively encourages a disregard for safety and the law. Whoever handles that case will most certainly look to the outcome of Flint v. Strava for guidance. I’ll be watching this one, too.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
The Tour is coming. You know this, because the weather is hot and when the weather is hot (or cold for you Aussies and other Southern Hemispherics), and you’re a fan of bike racing, you can more or less feel in your bones that the Tour is coming.
We’ve already more or less discussed the contenders. The quick wrap on them is: Cadel Evans will win because he knows how and has a good team and will peak at the right time. Unless Brad Wiggins wins because he has been absolutely flying and Sky is a super strong team also. Unless someone else wins. All the others are dark horses and thus super fun to imagine standing on the final podium. Andy Schleck is not a contender, nor is he a dark horse. He’s a spectator, which is too bad.
So we’ve covered the contenders, and we’ve talked about the Hump, that mystical mixture of confidence, luck, maturity and talent that finally puts an already strong rider onto the podium in Paris. If you have not won the Tour de France, and you want to or think you can, you will know, in your heart, that you will have to race better than you ever have at any other time in your life. You will have to surpass yourself.
This week’s Group Ride explores the strategies a potential champion, or any rider really, might use to surpass themselves. What are the mental tricks we employ to go farther, faster and better?
One idea I have worked with a little bit recently is something I call the Doppelganger Challenge™. It is a variation on the competing-against-yourself strategy, but there’s a twist.
It goes something like this. I set out on a ride, and I don’t feel my best. I begin to wrestle with my conscience over whether I’m going to press on to meet whatever goal I have for the ride, or whether I’ll turn around and go home. Most of the time, in my case, my goal is simply to finish whatever distance I’ve set out on, so I set the bar pretty low. That makes the mental wrestling match even more intense, because I quickly conclude that turning around and going home is pathetic (even if it is sometimes the right thing to do).
The trick with the Doppelganger Challenge™ is to imagine that someone just like me, with the same body and lack of talent, is racing against me. I ask myself, “Will that person give up? How hard will they go? Maybe they’re mentally strong, so I need to push myself to match them. Often, when I compete against that false stranger, I can do more than I would have on my own.
I’m not sure Cadel or Bradley or any of the other Tour riders will need to employ this strategy. I will hope to collect royalties from them if they do, but getting back to the task at hand, what do you do? What are your tricks? How do you work around the mental hurdles that arise? Tell me how to win, even if winning just means getting home before I fall over in the pedals, drooling on the hot asphalt.
Photo courtesy of Matt O’Keefe.